Conservation agriculture

Posted: 14 December 2007

Conservation agriculture aims to conserve, improve and make more efficient use of natural resources through integrated management of available soil, water and biological resources combined with external inputs.

  • Its objective is to achieve sustainable and profitable agriculture and to improve the livelihoods of farmers through the application of the three principles: minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover and crop rotations. The practice "holds tremendous potential for all sizes of farms and agro-ecological systems, but its adoption is perhaps most urgently required by smallholder farmers, especially those facing acute labour shortages", says the FAO.

  • Conservation agriculture is a way to combine profitable agricultural production with environmental concerns and sustainability and it has been proven to work in a variety of agro-ecological zones and farming systems. It can be a valid tool for Sustainable Land Management.

  • Conservation agriculture maintains a permanent or semi-permanent organic soil cover. This can be a growing crop or a dead mulch. Its function is to protect the soil physically from sun, rain and wind and to feed soil biota.

  • The soil micro-organisms and soil fauna take over the tillage function and soil nutrient balancing. Mechanical tillage disturbs this process. Therefore, zero or minimum tillage and direct seeding are important elements of conservation agriculture.

  • A varied crop rotation is also important to avoid disease and pest problems.

  • Livestock production can be fully integrated into conservation agriculture, by making use of the recycling of nutrients. This reduces the environmental problems caused by concentrated intensive livestock production.

  • Conservation agriculture is being practised on about 45 million hectares, mostly in North and South America. It is growing exponentially on small and large farms in South America, due to economic and environmental pressures. Farmers practising conservation agriculture in South America are highly organised in regional, national and local farmers' organisations. In Europe the European Conservation Agriculture Federation unites national associations in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain.